Passes Law Making Possession of Some Drugs Legal
New York Times
By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
MEXICO CITY, April 28, 2006
lawmakers passed a sweeping new drug law early Friday that
would crack down on small-time dealers, legalize the
possession of small quantities of drugs and mandate
treatment for addicts.
Under the bill, it would be
legal to have 25 milligrams of heroin, a fifth of an ounce
of marijuana or half a gram of cocaine. The bill also makes
it legal to possess small amounts of LSD, hallucinogenic
mushrooms, amphetamines and peyote.
President Vicente Fox had
proposed the law in January 2004 in the hopes of slowing
down the rapid growth in drug addiction and the ranks of
small-time dealers that has hit Mexican cities and towns in
recent years, just as it has long plagued American cities.
Both houses of the Mexican
Congress passed it in a last-minute flurry of legislation as
their session drew to a close. The final version of the bill
passed the Senate by a vote of 53 to 26 during an all-night
session that ended Friday morning. After its final approval,
the president's spokesman, Ruben Aguilar, said Mr. Fox would
sign it into law.
"This law gives police and
prosecutors better legal tools to combat drug crimes that do
so much damage to our youth and children," Mr. Aguilar said.
A United States Embassy
deplored the new measure. "We have not seen the text, so we
cannot comment on it in detail," said the official, who was
not authorized to speak publicly. "But any law that would
decriminalize dangerous drugs would not be helpful."
Supporters of the bill said
it was meant to fix major flaws in Mexico's current drug
laws. First, it will allow local judges and the police to
decide on a case-by-case basis whether people should be
prosecuted when caught with small amounts of drugs.
Previously, every drug suspect had to be prosecuted, a
system that put many addicts in jail while dealers went free
after bribing officials.
Second, the state and local
police will be empowered to arrest and prosecute street
dealers who are carrying more than the minor amounts allowed
under the law. Under existing laws, drug crimes were handled
only by federal officials.
The new measure also requires
people caught with less than the legal limits to go before a
judge, prove they are addicts and seek treatment.
"We are not authorizing the
consumption of drugs," said Senator Jorge Zermiño, the
bill's sponsor in the Senate. "We are combating it and
recognizing that there are addicts that require special
treatment. We cannot close our eyes, nor fill our jails with
But opponents said the law
would essentially legalize drug use and lead to more drug
abuse and so help drug dealers.
"Here we are authorizing drug use," said Senator Miguel
Ángel Navarro of the Party of the Democratic Revolution.
"Whether it's a little or a lot, we are legalizing drug use.
And I ask who is selling the drugs? Is it now legal to sell
drugs in the eyes of the authorities? Clearly not."
The bill was approved as
Mexico finds itself in the midst of a war between rival drug
cartels that has claimed hundreds of lives, including dozens
of police officers, particularly in the Texas border town of
Nuevo Laredo and along the Pacific Coast between Acapulco
The violence has been only
part of the social cost of the lucrative drug trade here.
Twenty years ago Mexico used to be a country through which
drugs passed on their way to Chicago, Los Angeles, New York
and other major American cities.
These days, however, drug
dealers and addicts have become more numerous in border
towns and big cities. The growing local market for drugs has
spurred higher levels of prostitution, robbery and burglary.
Local police forces have been
hamstrung in their efforts to stop street-level dealing.
Lacking the training and authority to investigate under the
old law, they could arrest someone only if the person was
caught in the act of selling drugs. Only the federal police
could arrest someone for drug possession.
"The current law is unclear,"
said José Ángelo Cordova, the chairman of the health
committee in the Chamber of Deputies. "If they don't catch
the person selling it, they can't charge them with a crime."